Opt-out Clause Resolves Tension in East Timor

Religious Instruction Returns to School Curriculum

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DILI, East Timor, MAY 13, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Tensions eased in East Timor after government and Church leaders reached an agreement regarding religious instruction in public schools.

President Xanana Gusmao, leader of the movement that fought for independence from Indonesia, and local Church leaders declared religious instruction once again part of the regular school curriculum, with a clause allowing parents to remove their children from religion class, reported Fides news agency.
<br> Representatives of the local Catholic Church also suggested that religious instruction should include the tenets of Protestant Christianity and Islam, to meet the needs of religious minorities in East Timor.

The conflict began in February when Muslim Prime Minister Mari Bin Amude Alkatiri approved a measure that made religion class an elective, a move that led Church leaders and citizens to take to the streets in protest beginning mid-April.

The prime minister took no action to appease those opposing the law, and the demonstrations, which involved priests and religious, increased in momentum. During more than two weeks, nearly 10,000 protested in the capital city of Dili.

The government deployed security forces on streets and around major public buildings, as unrest grew and demonstrators refused to go home, and many call for Alkatiri’s resignation.

Observers feared that opposition groups backed by the pro-Indonesia militia could take advantage of the situation to destabilize the young republic, where there is social unrest among the people, scourged by poverty and unemployment.

East Timor is an Asian state of some 800,000 inhabitants, 96% of whom are Catholic, a legacy of Portuguese colonialism.

Unilaterally annexed by Indonesia in 1976, East Timor was the scene of atrocious violence in the weeks following the referendum on independence in August 1999.

Since May 20, 2002, the Democratic Republic of Timor has enjoyed recognition as a sovereign nation and is a member of the United Nations.

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